There is a right way and a wrong way to hit the transfer portal, especially for a program like Notre Dame, and the 2021 offseason is an important time for the Fighting Irish to hit it the right way.
The wrong way is to try to find all your answers in the transfer portal, which hinders development of the players your program recruited out of high school. The right way is to fill one-year holes, or use it to bridge a gap between younger players who might not be ready just yet.
For Notre Dame, there are a few positions the staff should look heavily at for transfers, and some where they need to not waste their their time. One key area was quarterback, and Notre Dame already landed one of the top transfer on the market when it landed former Wisconsin signal caller Jack Coan.
Below is my breakdown of what positions the Irish should mine the portal for, and what positions the Irish should avoid when looking at the portal. Of course, all positions should be fair game if there is a stud available, but that is rarely the case.
POSITIONS TO FOCUS ON
Notre Dame’s cornerback depth chart is a bit of a mess right now, due mainly to the way TaRiq Bracy ended the 2020 season. Bracy was expected to be a starter and a top cover player for the Irish in 2020, and for parts of the season that’s what he was. As the season progressed, however, Bracy lost his confidence and found himself out of the lineup entirely.
He was replaced in the lineup by Clarence Lewis, who now heads into his sophomore season as the second most experienced cornerback on the roster. Lewis is a quality player, but he’s still developing as well. The raw nature of the rest of the depth chart is reason number two the staff should strongly consider a transfer.
Returning with Bracy and Lewis is rising junior Cam Hart and rising sophomores Ramon Henderson and Caleb Offord. Henderson and Offord are both projects, and unless one of them makes huge strides this spring the depth chart is going to be thin on ready to play corners.
I would not be the least bit surprised if the incoming freshman class provides more impact next season than Henderson or Offord.
Hart showing technical growth and Bracy getting his confidence back are keys to the depth chart being solidified with players currently on the roster. Hart is a defender that I’ve heard a lot of good things about from a potential standpoint, but he’s still quite unproven as a corner. If I was in the shoes of the Notre Dame coaches I’m not sure how confident I would be going into next season with those big question marks.
Looking for a cornerback that can come in and push for an immediate starting job should be at the top of the wish list for the Notre Dame coaches.
The loss of Houston Griffith was devastating to the depth chart for 2021. Priority number one for new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman should be trying to convince Griffith to return, and I expect him to do just that. If he’s successful the Irish really only need a safety for depth purposes, as Griffith should be able to solidify a starting role beside Kyle Hamilton.
Griffith returning would mean Notre Dame has senior DJ Brown and rising junior Litchfield Ajavon as the depth players, and that would allow the staff to bring along incoming freshman Khari Gee and Justin Walters.
If Griffith stays gone the staff needs to work hard to add a starting caliber safety. Brown is a solid rotation player, but his athletic limitations are such you really don’t want him as a 60-snap per game starter. Ajavon has played one career snap in two seasons, and while he could very well emerge as a legit rotation player, I wouldn’t be comfortable heading into the season where he and a freshman are forced into the rotation.
The loss of veterans Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji was expected, the loss of Ovie Oghoufo was not. Those departures followed the losses last season of Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Jamir Jones. Notre Dame’s depth chart at end has been absolutely decimated in a short period of time.
Notre Dame can go one of three ways at defensive end. One is to move someone from another position, something made harder by the loss of linebacker Jack Lamb, who might have been able to find a home as a drop player in certain roles. We could see Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa or current freshman Rylie Mills move outside at the strong side position. I’ve heard from sources that Tagovailoa-Amosa is going to get a shot here, but we don’t know if that changes with Freeman now in charge.
Option two is to add a drop player through the transfer portal, which would allow the staff to consider moving rising junior Isaiah Foskey to the strong side spot. Foskey would be able to make a smooth transition to the strong side, and if he develops you could see a strong one-two punch with he and Justin Ademilola.
The drop transfer and rising sophomore Justin Botelho could man the drop spot, and Foskey could still play there if needed, especially if NaNa Osafo-Mensah or Alexander Ehrensberger have strong off-seasons.
Option three is to keep Foskey and Botelho at the drop spot and add a strong side player to the strong side to join Ademilola in the rotation.
Of course, this assumes that Notre Dame stays in a four-down look under Freeman.
This is the biggest question mark in this breakdown. Notre Dame returns Isaiah Pryor and Paul Moala, but Pryor played just 63 snaps at the position this season and Moala is coming off a torn Achilles injury that cost him the entire 2020 season. Neither are proven at the position, and it is certainly a position that needs to be upgraded from a talent and depth standpoint.
Option number one is to move either Jack Kiser or Marist Liufau to rover and let them compete during the spring. Option two is to add a grad transfer into the mix. Kiser and Liufau are both starting caliber talents, and both have taken snaps at rover, so moving them makes a lot of sense. If you move one of them outside then need to add a grad transfer is diminished, but the staff should still keep its options open.
NO HELP NEEDED
There are positions where the Irish need to focus all of their efforts on developing the current roster.
Now is the time to develop the talent on the roster. One of the most frustrating things to come from the Notre Dame fan base in recent months is this drumbeat about not having enough talent at wide receiver. That is 100% on Brian Kelly, who has continued to beat the drum, and it’s nonsense.
Notre Dame had plenty of talent on the roster in 2018, 2019 and 2020. A lack of development does not equal a lack of talent.
If you can’t get a lineup with Avery Davis, Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III, Joe Wilkins Jr., Kendall Abdur-Rahman, Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, Jay Brunelle, Lorenzo Styles Jr., Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas (oldest to youngest) to play at a high level then it’s time to find new coaches who can.
If DeVonta Smith wants to stay in college and transfer to Notre Dame, great, you take him (obvious sarcasm, I’m not saying that’s an option). Other than that, the staff needs to not only focus on developing those wideouts, they need to build the offense around their ability to attack defenses.
What I just said about wide receiver is true for the offensive line. With so many losses it could be tempting to bring in a grad transfer to step into the lineup, but that would be a mistake. The reality is if a player is as good as the players that are leaving Notre Dame that player would be going to the NFL.
Notre Dame’s staff needs to focus on building its offensive line from the talent that is currently on campus. The only thing that could change this is if there are multiple injuries during the spring that would carry into the fall.
Even if Notre Dame moves Tagovailoa-Amosa to end this is still a loaded position group. Notre Dame returns Kurt Hinish, Jayson Ademilola, Jacob Lacey, Rylie Mills, Howard Cross III, Aidan Keannaina and it adds Gabriel Rubio this spring. Barring a rash of injuries this position group is loaded.
Notre Dame lost Tommy Tremble and Brock Wright, but it is still loaded at the position. Rising sophomore Michael Mayer returns as the top tight end on the roster, and he’ll be in contention for the top tight end in the country next season. Those losses open up opportunities for talented returners George Takacs and Kevin Bauman to secure spots in the rotation.
Notre Dame also welcomes freshmen Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans during the spring. This is a position group that needs to focus on development, not a transfer.
This is the one position that has a bit of a caveat. If Notre Dame signs Logan Diggs in February (which I expect them to do) then I believe the depth chart is just fine. You have Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, C’Bo Flemister and the two freshmen (Audric Estime, Diggs).
I don’t mind having freshmen in the rotation at running back, especially freshmen with the size that Diggs (6-0, 200) and Estime (6-1, 215) bring to the table. Land Diggs and I am a big fan of Notre Dame’s running back depth chart. Miss on him and there might be a need to either move someone to running back or bring in a grad transfer for depth purposes.
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